Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Being catholic with both a big and small "c"

My recent post on experiencing Mass from a new perspective, garnered (as expected) some comments both here and on OSV Daily Take, and it got me thinking. So much so that I decided I needed to write another post, not just another comment.

Some of the reaction to my positive experience of attending Mass with the priest facing away from me suggested that I was looking for a return to the old ways, to the days of Latin Mass. Which is kind of funny because even as some -- particularly on the OSV blog -- were reacting to what appeared to be my traditionalism or conservatism, others were reacting on a completely different matter to what appeared to be my progressivism or liberalism. And all of it just made me chuckle.

I seem to confound people because I cannot be defined. I cannot be pigeon-holed. Not as a Catholic. Not as a political being. Not as a person. I do not -- and will not -- fit into someone else's mold of what they think I am or should be. But it's a little frightening how quickly people want to slap a label on someone, to create another person in their own image, or -- as is too often the case -- in the image of the thing they dislike or oppose. Can't we all just get along?

What I find most beautiful about the Catholic faith is its diversity, its ability to include so many different styles and traditions and cultures and spiritualities under one roof. And my spiritual life reflects that diversity. I am as at home listening to Gregorian Chant as I am the St. Louis Jesuits or Christian pop music. I can see the beauty in attending a Mass where the priest is facing away from me or a Mass where I've helped make the Communion bread. I can just as easily fall in step beside people from Opus Dei as I can people from Sant'Egidio. My faith is not in any way limited by a certain style or tradition or a feeling that I must or must not do something in order to stay true to a particular vein of Catholicism. I am Catholic and I am catholic, with a small "c," which, as you know, is part of our creed and reminds us of our call to be "universal."

But, in this age of political -- and I guess spiritual -- purity, the middle road is often the one less traveled. I don't fit in anywhere, really. My way is a blend of what I see as all the very best things of this amazing Catholic faith, as taught by our Church and practiced by our people. I am not afraid to venture into new territory to hear about or experience a new perspective, an old tradition, or a cutting-edge philosophy. I can pick up a set of Rosary beads or pray before an icon just the same. I can recite the foundational prayers of our faith or sit in the silence of centering prayer. All of it leads me to Jesus.

I would love to hear from others who find themselves in this middle ground, who appreciate and bask in the many different traditions of our faith, regardless of what "side" they fall on. There should be no sides here. Just the never-ending circle of God's all-powerful love. Can I get an "Amen"?


Anonymous said...

I am at work so I can't go into a long ramble here- just want to laud you on all of these posts. We are a pilgrim church, a pilgrim people and your words so beautifully discuss the journey... not the destination alone.

Thank you. I will be back later.


Msgr. William Benwell said...

Already in the early 1980's, the renowned Biblical scholar, the late Fr. Raymond E. Brown, lamented the "disappearance of the middle" in our Church. Here was a man appointed by two different popes to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and yet was criticized as too conservative by the Left and hounded by right-wing Catholics at many of his public lectures because they perceived him as too liberal. (As a church official who deals with the gamut of Catholic opinion on a daily basis, I am continually surprised at how it is usually the most outwardly pious, "Church-loving" Catholics who are the nastiest and most judgmental when criticizing bishops and priests.)

So much of the rhetoric on the extreme Right and Left strikes me as being about straining out the gnat while missing (and swallowing) the camel (Mt 23:24). The extremes get so caught up in what is more often than not Church minutiae (Right) or in what feels warm and trendy (Left) that what goes missing is the message and example of Jesus Christ -- a rather pastoral Messiah, who had strong and clear convictions, but also a great appreciation for the human condition and a great compassion for those who struggle because of that condition.

Providential that the experiences that led to your post comes days after Pope Benedict XVI personally beatified Cardinal Newman, a great advocate for the "via media."